top of page

The Power of Gamification and Game-Based Learning in Education

Updated: Sep 7, 2021

I was sitting on the carpet, in my cousin’s bedroom glued to the television. Watching she and my cousin David, use the knob controllers on the Atari, each of them trying to keep the little white blip from scoring on the other. Pong; my first time ever seeing an at home console video game. And from that point on, I did everything I could to get home from school, on weekdays to watch them play or wait to be invited to play. I was terrible at it and I still am, but something about it made me want more. In the early 80s, we were not from money, but what we did have was one another and I would soon learn the value of money. With $3.00 in my pocket a few years later, we would beg our parents to take us to the Arcade at the Tyler Mall. I can still see the carpet. It was dark, with neon stars and planets. Neon lights everywhere, sounds from the machines echoed inside the excruciatingly loud atmosphere.

Image from Minecraft Education Edition in Game Play

You see, esports was a thing then too, in 1988, when we all wanted the HiScore, and all we wanted to do was scroll through the letters of the alphabet so that we could input ALW, a temporary record on public display of our well fought battles, our efforts. Many times, I ran out of money in the first 30 minutes and while my aunt, was shopping, I stood idly by as some well-known gamer kids in Riverside, California would compete to see who leveled up to be the champion of the day. I was a kid tracked for “honors” or “GATE” as we today we say “Gifted” and school was nothing more than a place to play with my friends, because let’s face it, teachers needed to tell us what they knew. Sometimes, depending on the teacher, I would get into trouble, and other times I would be a Pleasure to have in class.” Why? I was a rule follower mostly, always wanting to talk and support others, until that one day when I punched a bully in the nose, or used someones’ jacket because Monique wanted to play in the sandbox with me, but she had braces on her legs. But that was a mistake, and soon I learned. I was a gamer. I knew how to play the school game, and the home game, and I was GOOD at it. It only took me to realize during the pandemic of 2020, that this resonates still today in every aspect of my life's work. The games have evolved over the last 35+ years, but I am still a self-identified gamer. This leads me to where I am today, and my Why. Simon Sinek talks about finding your Why. If you haven’t seen his video, May I invite you?

MY Why is Games and Play. Click here. I have curated a Wakelet collection with a multitude of resources and experiences to share with you, that I have had throughout my educational journey, and it has been that which has brought my educational pedagogy full circle at this time. Take some time to dive deep into it and check out some of the PowerPoints, and collaborative experiences we have shared as the games-based learning community. In a nutshell, it’s my passion surrounding Games Based Learning, and Gamification of Learning.

As Mr. Fred Rogers once said, “Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.” It is also why I am 1000% in support of student voice and choice as it has always been part of my pedagogy as an educator. Building community has always been at the forefront of my own life, and it was natural to build authentic relationships where my students excelled in my classroom and everyone’s voices were heard. This too is part of gamification and games-based learning. I did this through gamifying everything inside my school day, home life, and playing games with homework ideas too. And I did it in my classroom. It was a work of heart no doubt. Here is a recent presentation I gave at our local county office of education which you will find many of the images and resources that are hyperlinked. I wanted you to have something to include in your classroom should you choose and as I’d say normally, choose wisely! Not all applications are for all students. The current situation we are in, the Floor is Lava and the Volcano is starting to smoke. What you do will determine the outcome. Vesuvius or Etna? Some apps take time to develop and all of them have an intended purpose.

Wait a moment... did you just say you played games ALL DAY?. YES, I did!

“How’d you get those test scores to increase? “

“Your kids hate me from all you did with them last year.”

“I can’t get <insert student name> to do anything how did you? “

“They just don’t want to work hard these kids don’t know how.”

“Thank You, for teaching them to critically think, write, read, learn maths, science, history, etc.” was also sometimes mentioned.

What wasn’t mentioned a lot, or asked was “How do I replicate this. So, when it was, I was (and still am) right there to support anyone and everyone, many times sacrificing my personal time and family time to support and have a conversation. Community. Communication. A 21st Century Learning Skill. One game I haven’t fully mastered... yet but something I truly believe is vital to our future.

Often times in my very own classroom or while hosting additional students, they would inquire about something I didn’t know, or a game we just started playing, maybe a lesson, and I would task them with a “challenge.”

“Great question, Mahalia & Brian, I don’t know, but can you find out and come back and teach us, class would you like that.” - Students were Hooked!

Or I would have a really tough student, one that would be sent to my room because the teacher couldn’t “handle them,” come to my room and we would play a real-life game of chess. I set norms from the get go, our “game rules” and then the real work started. It wasn’t more work for me to take on an additional student or sometimes 5-6 of them. Sometimes it was a big boss battle, that started from the previous classroom, or power struggle to see who gives in first, ultimately, my students always won and I guess you could say I always said good game once they accomplished their task. I never used fear or intimidation, ever. Generally, the students who put down the banana peels, and threw the most fireballs, were the ones I ended up loving most by the end of the year and actually the helped me to grow the most. Why? Because I got to know them as gamers. I related to them at their own levels. I provided everyone time to voice their feelings and actions within limits, norms of a safe space.

Survival was not on the table. You had to work at survival in my class. When you did, you were rewarded with experiences that were cultivated and designed with thought. I once found out one of my female students were not doing their homework because they were immersed in art drawings and creating content showing others on youtube how to draw anime art from television and video games. Boy did I jump on that quick! She was teaching us that very next day.

Image from @ItsAmandaMacias during Minecraft EDU esports world

Designed by the amazing team at Immersive Minds

This meant EVERYONE was invited to play and experience the game of school, the game of education, and the game of life. Fun Fridays were quite popular too, something they wanted to do whatever it be, create, do, or make. Strategy board game day & club, creating their own authentic assessments, experimenting, co-teaching Microsoft 365 technology tools like Powerpoint, Sway, Flipgrid, Mystery Skype, Powerpoint, and Code.Org, Discovery Education, Prodigy Math Game, that they had figured out with classmates, other grade level classes below or above them. Tech tutors and leads would support with devices in other grades, support one another in troubleshooting tech issues, and I had the time to pull small groups of students all day long for additional rigorous tasks or to support with needs. (I had no time to do this technology learning on my own time, so many times the students were my tech supports, and they still are). Hour of Code, Creating Stop Animation Movies, Anti-Bullying Videos, Music at PE, GoNoodle Dance and Sing Competitions ( I still cannot floss btw) , Team Building and Collaborative Tasks for Math. Cross Teaching, Jigsaw, Poster Strolls, Gallery Walks, Scavenger Hunts, group points, Team Names, Teacher vs Student games, STEM activities, Student Centered Worlds, Passion Projects, College and Career Tasks.... I pretty much could take J.Matt Miller’s book, “Ditch that Textbook” and have written it myself probably at the same time when I was in the classroom. I used them as tools, nothing more. What I wanted to create with my students were experiences. Daily. And we did.

What I thought was common, I later found out was not the case. It’s a really funny thing about education when you let the students do the work. 1) THEY go home tired, not you. 2) THEY do more work. By giving them permission, to do the important learning. I step back so they can teach one another 3) I assess formally and informally all the time while observing, taking anecdotal and mental notes, looking at how they play together and solo, a small group chat in a Teams channel tells me more about students than I would ever get in the classroom with everyone trying to talk at once. A talk in the hallways in person, often lead to a huge learning experience and relationship building experience too.

Image borrowed from Fall Guys Ultimate Knockout Game: Developer: Mediatonic Publisher: Devolver Digital

All of this is not without norms. Norms have to be set, especially in virtual environments and games-based learning environments, when we have even less control over our students learning. But one thing we can control is content delivery and student engagement. in April 2020, I attended an event called INSPIRE presented by Insight 2 Execution, a Microsoft Global Partner team, that talked about many of the tools that Microsoft has to offer for education. The one that I kept thinking about the most was Minecraft Education Edition. It was put on by some of the Minecraft Global mentors Steve Isaacs, Cathy Cheos-Isaacs, Becky Keene, and a few others. It was one of the best experiences I recalled of all. That week, literally day changed my life. I wanted more. A few months later, I became part of this team. I am privileged to LEVEL UP with this elite team, and ALM is now on the leaderboard beside the big-time gamer educators!

So, what is Minecraft Education Edition? I know what you are thinking...

“My kids play Minecraft and all they do is run around breaking things or destroy mobs. They can’t do that all day for school. How will they get a job in the future?” I know. I thought like you did. Before this pandemic. I had a very similar outlook. “Esports isn’t a job it’s for fun. Games aren’t a career unless you are a designer and those jobs are few and far between. Unboxing videos? What are you even saying?”

Some of that may be true. You may not make millions, or become a pro streamer or gamer. You may not make a huge impact within game development. But I have come to find a lot of what gaming involves is learning and it takes a lot of time and practice to get really good at it. Something we have as of late. I took it upon myself to immerse myself in pedagogy, watching, observing others, and learning from the Global Minecraft E.E. Mentors. Having authentic conversations, taking courses (multiple times) and the one thing I noticed is every time I watch a Stream with Play Matters, Inside Participate involving Minecraft EDU, and our growing community, stream myself, or I ask someone on Twitter for support, attend a community-based Minecraft EDU event, it all comes back to one thing. Community. There’s something magical when we play together. What’s really cool is Minecraft EDU is a sound educational tool that is constantly evolving and changing to suit the needs of all learners. There are premade lessons for all subjects, 21st century learning skills, coding, and even SEL. Not only that, there is also the opportunity for cooperative play, esports competitions with Minecraft EDU esports, Minecraft Masters in NAESF, Monthly build Challenges, and so much more. It is truly what I am currently using in my own classroom, if I am ever asked to go back into the classroom from my coaching role, as one of my main tools right beside Flipgrid, Wakelet, Microsoft Teams and One Note Class Notebook. Check out the community here for more details and join us if you are ready to start breaking things WITH your students and then building THEM up!

Ultimately, games transcend time, age, gender, race, you name it. Games 4 Change is an amazing resource to find cutting edge research, and support surrounding games-based learning tools and pedagogy. It’s time to level up in education, with gamification and games-based learning. Play matters to all students. Are you ready to level up your teaching and pedagogy tool kit? I invite you to join the leader board. There is room for everyone. #You can play with us! Remind me to tell you about the time my students BROKE INTO Learning during the pandemic, and they weren’t even shown how. I hope your students will too! Please reach out on Twitter @itsAmandaMacias let’s connect. #TeamUniquorn

About the author

With over 16 years under her belt in K-8 education using technology, inside and outside the classroom, Amanda ignites a spark in students’ lives and those of the educators she engages.

As instructional support coach, she is responsible for supporting her local county school district leaders, educators, educational initiatives and student outcomes where her message has always been that “Play Matters.”

More recently her rediscovery has been the love of gaming, the maker lifestyle, and how technology seamlessly integrate and flow from her life into her career. Amanda is a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, MIE Trainer, Minecraft Education Edition Trainer, and educational pioneer since the beginning. She is also a Professional Learning Specialist with Insight 2 Execution, a Global Microsoft Training Partner, taking her expertise of education and pedagogy practices into the art of gamification for education for 21st century learning skills while supporting educators throughout the world using Microsoft Education products and partner applications.

Amanda continues to grow her passion with games-based learning, and enjoys streaming and engaging with other educational professionals in game-based learning networks on Twitch and as much as humanly possible, with global friends from around the internet. She continues to ignite passion in others so that they may inspire children around the globe with education that is relevant and meaningful to student voice and choice.

325 views0 comments